Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Words to watch

There are no forbidden words or expressions on Wikipedia, but certain expressions should be used with caution, because they may introduce bias. Strive to eliminate expressions that are flattering, disparaging, vague, clichéd, or endorsing of a particular viewpoint.

The advice in this guideline is not limited to the examples provided and should not be applied rigidly. [1] For example, some words have specific technical meanings in some contexts and are acceptable in those contexts (e.g. "claim" in law). What matters is that articles should be well-written and consistent with the core content policies— Neutral point of view, No original research, and Verifiability. The guideline does not apply to quotations, which should be faithfully reproduced from the original sources; see the section on quotations in the main Manual of Style.

Words that may introduce bias

Puffery

Words to watch: ...legendary, great, acclaimed, visionary, outstanding, leading, celebrated, award-winning, landmark, cutting-edge, innovative, extraordinary, brilliant, hit, famous, renowned, remarkable, prestigious, world-class, respected, notable, virtuoso, honorable, awesome, unique...

An example of peacock terms

Words such as these are often used without attribution to promote the subject of an article, while neither imparting nor plainly summarizing verifiable information. They are known as "peacock terms" by Wikipedia contributors. [2] Instead of making unprovable proclamations about a subject's importance, use facts and attribution to demonstrate that importance.

  • Peacock example:
    • Bob Dylan is the defining figure of the 1960s counterculture and a brilliant songwriter.
  • Just the facts:

Articles suffering from such language should be rewritten to correct the problem or may be tagged with an appropriate template [2] if an editor is unsure how best to correct them.

Puffery is an example of positively loaded language; negatively loaded language should be avoided just as much. People responsible for "public spending" (the neutral term) can be loaded both ways, as "the tax-and-spend politicians borrowing off the backs of our grandchildren" or "the public servants ensuring crucial investment in our essential infrastructure for the public good".

Contentious labels

Words to watch: ... cult, racist, perverted, sect, fundamentalist, heretic, extremist, denialist, terrorist, freedom fighter, bigot, myth, -gate, pseudo-, controversial, ...

Value-laden labels—such as calling an organization a cult, an individual a racist, terrorist, or freedom fighter, or a sexual practice a perversion—may express contentious opinion and are best avoided unless widely used by reliable sources to describe the subject, in which case use in-text attribution. Avoid myth in its informal sense, and establish the scholarly context for any formal use of the term.

The prefix pseudo‑ indicates that something is false or spurious, which may be debatable. The suffix ‑gate suggests the existence of a scandal. Use these in articles only when they are in wide use externally (e.g. Watergate), with in-text attribution if in doubt. Rather than describing an individual using the subjective and vague term controversial, instead give readers information about relevant controversies. Make sure, as well, that reliable sources establish the existence of a controversy and that the term is not used to grant a fringe viewpoint undue weight. [3]

With regard to the term "pseudoscience": per the policy Neutral point of view, pseudoscientific views "should be clearly described as such". Per the content guideline, fringe theories, the term "pseudoscience" may be used to distinguish fringe theories from mainstream science, supported by reliable sources.

Unsupported attributions

Words to watch: ...some people say, many scholars state, it is believed/regarded, many are of the opinion, most feel, experts declare, it is often reported, it is widely thought, research has shown, science says, scientists claim, it is often said...

An example of weasel words

Weasel words are words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated. A common form of weasel wording is through vague attribution, where a statement is dressed with authority, yet has no substantial basis. Phrases such as those above present the appearance of support for statements but can deny the reader the opportunity to assess the source of the viewpoint. They may disguise a biased view. Claims about what people say, think, feel, or believe, and what has been shown, demonstrated, or proved should be clearly attributed. [4]

The examples given above are not automatically weasel words. They may also be used in the lead section of an article or in a topic sentence of a paragraph, and the article body or the rest of the paragraph can supply attribution. Likewise, views which are properly attributed to a reliable source may use similar expressions, if they accurately represent the opinions of the source. Reliable sources may analyze and interpret, but for us, as editors, to do so would violate the No Original Research or Neutral Point of View policies. Equally, editorial irony and damning with faint praise have no place in Wikipedia articles.

Articles including weasel words should ideally be rewritten such that they are supported by reliable sources; alternatively, they may be tagged with the {{ weasel}}, {{ by whom}}, or similar templates to identify the problem to future readers (who may elect to fix the issue).

Expressions of doubt

Words to watch: ...supposed, apparent, purported, alleged, accused, so-called...

Words such as supposed, apparent, alleged and purported can imply that a given point is inaccurate, although alleged and accused are appropriate when wrongdoing is asserted but undetermined, such as with people awaiting or undergoing a criminal trial; when these are used, ensure that the source of the accusation is clear. So-called can mean commonly named, falsely named, or contentiously named, and it can be difficult to tell these apart. Simply called is preferable for the first meaning; detailed and attributed explanations are preferable for the others.

Punctuation can also be used for similar effects: quotation marks, when not marking an actual quote, may indicate that the writer is distancing herself or himself from the otherwise common interpretation of the quoted expression; the use of emphasis may turn an innocuous word into a loaded expression. Such occurrences should also be considered carefully.

Editorializing

Words to watch: ...notably, it should be noted, interestingly, essentially, actually, clearly, of course, without a doubt, happily, tragically, aptly, fortunately, untimely, unfortunately,...

The use of adverbs such as notably and interestingly, and phrases such as it should be noted, to highlight something as particularly significant or certain without attributing that opinion, should usually be avoided so as to maintain an impartial tone. Words such as fundamentally, essentially, and basically can indicate particular interpretative viewpoints, and thus should also be attributed in controversial cases. Care should be used with actually, which implies that a fact is contrary to expectations; make sure that this is verifiable and not just assumed. Clearly, obviously, naturally, and of course all presume too much about the reader's knowledge and perspective and often amount to excess verbiage. Wikipedia should not take a view as to whether an event was fortunate or not.

Words to watch: ...but, despite, however, though, although...

More subtly, editorializing can produce implications that are not supported by the sources. Words used to link two statements such as but, despite, however, and although may imply a relationship where none exists, possibly unduly calling the validity of the first statement into question while giving undue weight to the credibility of the second.

Synonyms for said

Words to watch: ...reveal, point out, expose, explain, find, note, observe, insist, speculate, surmise, claim, assert, admit, confess, deny, clarify...

Said, stated, described, wrote, commented, and according to are almost always neutral and accurate. Extra care is needed with more loaded terms. For example, to write that a person clarified, explained, exposed, found, pointed out, or revealed something can imply that it is true, instead of simply conveying the fact that it was said. To write that someone insisted, noted, observed, speculated, or surmised can suggest the degree of the person's carefulness, resoluteness, or access to evidence, even when such things are unverifiable.

To write that someone asserted or claimed something can call their statement's credibility into question, by emphasizing any potential contradiction or implying a disregard for evidence. Similarly, be judicious in the use of admit, confess, and deny, particularly for living people, because these verbs can inappropriately imply culpability.

Other Languages